On Nov. 6, former President Barack Obama’s presidential appointee Justin Tanner visited the Carl A. Fields Center as a part of ’ first event of the season. In 2015, Obama appointed Tanner as Associate Director for Legislative, Education & Intergovernmental Affairs at the Department of Commerce.
Eighteen students congregated in the Class of 1985 Room in the Fields Center at 7 p.m. to engage in a small group discussion with Tanner. Tanner spoke about his experiences prior to his work for the Obama presidential campaign as well as his professional aspirations afterwards. His visit was sponsored by the Office of Religious Life and Dean Theresa Thames.
A Howard University alumnus and Vanderbilt Law School graduate, Tanner credited his passion for social justice and race relations to his educational experiences and interactions with various communities.
“I had never had a teacher or professor who looked like me until my freshman year,” said Tanner. “I went 12 years without having a black teacher, male or female. Howard was the most culturally enriching experience of my life; I found myself there.”
During the conversation, Tanner focused on the opportunities that University students hold, and gave students pointers for maximizing success in undergraduate years.
“Study up on people who you look up to,” Tanner recommended. “People pay so much for networking alone. Soak it in and take advantage of all of your opportunities. What you do now is setting you up for the next step; it all starts here.”
Tanner also encouraged students to embrace failure wholeheartedly as a growing experience to enhance solidarity and collective determination.
“This generation has never lost,” said Tanner. “Losing brings people down. This is a struggle, and it’s a continuous struggle. You have to work at it, because it’s not going to be roses all the time.”
At the conclusion of the talk, students interviewed by The Daily Princetonian held mixed opinions about the subject matter of the talk. Nathan Poland ‘20, Multimedia Committee Head of Woke Wednesdays, found Tanner’s presence to be a much-needed voice connecting students to the reality of politics in this day and age.
“I was really honored to have him speak to us because it’s not often that we get someone who actually knows what it’s like on the inside,” commented Poland. “Hearing his perspective definitely cemented the idea in my mind that change isn’t achieved through one avenue, but through multiple.”
David Liu ‘21 echoed Poland’s sentiments while also pointing out that he wished Tanner had focused more on student questions.
“I enjoyed Tanner’s talk,” said Liu. “While perhaps he wasn’t the best at answering the group’s questions, he did us all a favor by imparting the knowledge that he came to disseminate. What I took away from this encounter is the importance of networking, and that’s a lesson that I’ll hold with me in my professional career.”
The varying opinions on Tanner’s talk emulate the goals of Woke Wednesdays, whose members encourage communication and contention.
“Woke Wednesdays is centered around discourse and dialogue related to issues of race and politics and gender ideology,” said William Pugh ‘20, co-founder and president of Woke Wednesdays. “Basically what we’re trying to do is offer a platform and springboard to have these conversations and serve as a means to facilitate conversations on campus about difficult things.”